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Entries in Digital Revolution (1)

Wednesday
Feb092011

Cuban Revolution Meets Digital Revolution

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(HAVANA, Cuba) -- The Caribbean Basin teams with underwater fiber optic cables, but not a one touched the largest island until Tuesday when the Ile de Batz, a cable ship flying the French flag, arrived in eastern Cuba with a line laid from Venezuela. It was a truly historic event sure to greatly improve the efficiency of the government and state-run economy, while provoking great expectations among Cuba's Internet-starved population.

"From what I understand this will improve communications and lower the cost. I think there will be many more options to have Internet, which is almost impossible right now," teacher Pedro Estrada said.

The Cuban revolution has missed out on the digital revolution, according to the International Telecommunications Union, earning last place in the Western Hemisphere year after year for telephone, computer and Internet density.

Cuba blames U.S. sanctions for its digital backwardness, while its critics charge it is due to government efforts to control the population.

"There won't be general access for the population to the Internet. Limits are more ideological than economic, so we will have to keep connecting through the black market," said Alberto, who asked his last name not be used.

Cuba legalized mobile phones in 2008, perhaps the last country in the world to do so, and the cost is by far the highest in Latin America and the Caribbean. Internet, even with blocked access to some pages, is available only with special government permission.

According to the government there were 1.6 million Internet users in 2009, or one in every 14.2 residents, but most only had access to a local intranet. Cubans and visitors who do have Internet confront an agonizingly slow and unstable connection via an expensive satellite transmission. Viewing videos is just about impossible and opening a web page can be a hair-pulling experience.

President Obama authorized U.S. companies in 2009 to negotiate direct links with Cuba, but both the companies and Havana reported the Commerce Department stalled any agreements over payment issues.

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